2023, you’ve been a wild ride. From the reimaging of 2D Mario to Link’s much-anticipated open-world return, all while Honkai Star Rail continued chugging along with massive updates, it’s been quite the 12 months for mobile and Switch gaming. So much so that it can be a struggle to remember it all. That’s where we come in, with our – drumroll, please – Pocket Tactics annual roundup. Yeah, baby, we’re back.
As years tend to, 2023 started with January, heralding the release of Fire Emblem Engage, the latest offering from the tactical RPG series, Pocket Card Jockey: Ride On! via Apple Arcade, and some exciting Switch indies such as A Space for the Unbound, Trek to Yomi, and Roller Drama. Despite Christmas having gone weeks beforehand, there were glad tidings still in the air at the start of the year for Dead Cells’ developer Motion Twin, with the news that the mobile version of the popular roguelike had sold over five million copies, while Nintendo celebrated too, thanks to the Switch becoming the most popular console of all time in France.
Still, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the gaming industry going into 2023, with a report revealing that mobile game spending was down in the previous year due to the consequences of inflation and rising living costs. Roblox was feeling the pinch, too, with the popular gaming platform’s stock value down compared to the start of the previous year. It would, unfortunately, just be the start of a year full of great games but troubling industry news of profits, losses, layoffs, and closures.
In February, we headed out to MWC – the Mobile World Congress, for the uninitiated – to see the future of mobile hardware and speak to some of the biggest names in the game. While we spent a lot of time on the show floor checking out upcoming tech from brands like OnePlus, Motorola, and Tecno, the trip’s highlight was a chat with Won-Joon Choi, Executive Vice President and Head of Mobile R&D at Samsung. This interview included Choi’s confession that he makes time for Roblox with his kids. I wonder if he uses our code guides.
On the subject of Roblox, the second month of the year saw the popular One Piece-inspired title Blox Fruits – yes, those with a familiarity with the game will know the term inspired is doing a lot of heavy lifting there – smash past the 14 billion visits marker. If you think those are some pretty incredible numbers, you’re not wrong, and with that sort of popularity, it’s no surprise we saw the first series of Blox Fruits plush toys later in the year. In terms of Nintendo Switch offerings in the second month of the year, we enjoyed the start of 2023’s landslide of Nintendo remakes and remasters with Kirby’s Return to Dreamland Deluxe and Metroid Prime Remastered. That, as you can probably imagine by my use of the word landslide, was just the beginning.
March saw the first big gaming awards ceremony of 2023, the BAFTA Gaming Awards, with Vampire Survivors beating out big-budget titles like Elden Ring and God of War Ragnarok to win the Best Game award. That makes Poncle’s monster slaying title the first BAFTA award winner available to play on mobile, and as a mobile-orientated site, we’re counting that as a win for us, too. We’re hoping it’s just the first of many mobile games to pick up a BAFTA win, and with a report emerging in March suggesting that mobile gaming spending in the early part of 2023 was as high as $1.6 billion a week, there are certainly plenty of incentives for developers to release on Android and iOS.
While a BAFTA win is sure to bring some attention to your game, Merge Mansion managed to draw in new players with a very different sort of star power in March by releasing a string of commercials starring the man of the moment himself, Pedro Pascal. Pascal took on the role of Detective Tim Rockford, an investigator looking into the mysteries of Merge Mansion. While this isn’t exactly Pascal’s most engaging role of the year, it brought a lot more attention to the Merge Mansion, with the mobile puzzler going on to celebrate 50 million downloads before the end of the year.
April of the year is always a fun time to be a gaming journalist, as you spend the first day of the month trawling through social media and press releases to find out what is and isn’t real. Spoiler: our post celebrating the KFC Colonel joining Genshin Impact was another one of these pranks, and those in Teyvat must live without finger lickin’ chicken for now. Fortunately, April Fools’ Day lasts for just 24 hours, so with that out the way, we could concentrate on some real news before May, including the blockbuster success of the Super Mario Bros. movie, Doors amassing three billion visits on Roblox, and the sunsetting of the ill-fated Apex Legends Mobile.
The fourth month of 2023 also brought around the release of a game that tactics games fans like myself had dreamed of for years: Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp. Originally intended for release in 2022, Nintendo delayed the release of this remake of its iconic strategy series due to global conflicts and a concern that it might be in poor taste, but it finally arrived, and god was it good. In fact, ‘good’ is something of an understatement, with Re-Boot Camp earning a 10/10 from yours truly due to it being everything you could ask for in a double-pack port of a classic game.
May, Justin Timberlake’s favorite month, had Nintendo Switch owners thinking about one thing and one thing only: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. We’d been waiting for what felt like forever following Nintendo’s slow trickle of teasers and trailers, and when the game finally came around, it did not disappoint. Countless sites awarded Tears of the Kingdom full marks, including ourselves, as we lost hours to adventuring through, over, and under Hyrule. Other things happened in May, but most of the gaming world was too busy taking on Ganon to notice.
In June, Roblox developer Wiggity released Blade Ball, which would turn out to be one of the platform’s biggest hits of the year, amassing more than a billion visits within just a couple of months of its release and more than two billion before the end of the year. While Brookhaven still reigns supreme, with more than 40 billion visits at the end of 2023, and Adopt Me! and Blox Fruits don’t lag too far behind, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Blade Ball break into the top ten if it maintains it’s massive player base. There’s one to watch out for in 2024.
Unfortunately, unlike Blade Ball, not every game can be a hit. Niantic learned this the hard way in June by announcing the sunsetting of NBA All-World, an AR basketball sim that the company had high aspirations for just a few months earlier. With the continued success of Pokémon Go, it looked like Niantic could do no wrong, but this was the developer’s first major misstep and something it definitely didn’t want to recreate with the impending release of Monster Hunter Now.
July gave us one of our sleeper hit games of the year with the arrival of Hello Kitty Island Adventure on Apple Arcade. Our resident Sanrio stan Daz tried this one out, and let me tell you, they had a whale of a time, describing the experience as “the perfect game for fans of cats, cakes, and cuteness.” Speaking of cuteness, the second summer month also brought some sunshine to our lives with the release of Pikmin 4, an adorable fourth installment of a series that often doesn’t get enough love. We gave it plenty of love, though, with the much-anticipated return earning a 10/10 in our Pikmin 4 review.
Pikmin wasn’t the only treat for Nintendo fans in July either, with The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Seasons joining the roster of Nintendo Switch Online Game Boy Advance games. However, the sixth month ended on a sour note, especially for Roblox fans, with another instance of one of the more disheartening themes of 2023. Roblox fell victim to a massive hack, leading to the company offering one-year VPN subscriptions to users and employees.
In August, I ticked a box on my gaming journalist bucket list by heading to Japan to watch the first-ever Yu-Gi-Oh! World Championships to crown winners for both Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links and Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel formats, with the grand finals offering some top-tier dueling that Yugi Moto himself would be proud of. Back at home, we got our first look at Reverse: 1999, a new time-traveling gacha game from the team at Bluepoch, which left staff writer Ben more bemused than bedazzled, while EA revealed FC Mobile, its new mobile soccer sim following the fallout with FIFA.
The last of the summer months also saw the retirement of a gaming legend, Charles Martinet, the long-time voice of Mario. With Martinet having voiced Nintendo’s iconic platforming plumber since the days of Super Mario 64, this was a shocking revelation, leading to serious speculation as to who might pick up the Mario mantle in the future. We would eventually find out with the release of Super Mario Bros. Wonder, with the introduction of Kevin Afghani as the new voice of Mario and Luigi. We haven’t seen the last of Martinet either, with the actor in a new role as a Nintendo’s Mario ambassador.
While much of the gaming world turned its attention to Starfield in September, those who could peel their eyes away from Baldur’s Gate 3 anyway, other things actually happened that month. For one, Monster Hunter Now finally arrived, offering fans of the series a way to hunt down gigantic beasts in a new AR spectacle, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet got its first DLC with The Teal Mask, and much to our editor Ruby’s delight, Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis finally arrived on mobile.
It wasn’t just a big month for games in September but also for mobile hardware. After much anticipation, the iPhone 15 series finally launched, including the high-end iPhone 15 Pro Max. Apple launched these devices with the promise that AAA games for the Pro and Pro Max versions, such as Death Stranding Director’s Cut and Assassin’s Creed Mirage. All eyes are now on the 2024 launch of the Samsung Galaxy S24 to see how the Android superbrand responds to Apple throwing down the gaming gauntlet.
In October, much of the buzz in the gaming world surrounded Nintendo’s reminder of why Mario is the king of 2D platformers with Super Mario Bros. Wonder. Our review gave the game a 10/10, as did many other outlets, with writers praising the new power-ups, colorful design, and fresh approach to Mario’s bread and butter of linear 2D levels. For a solid fortnight, social media was full of Elephant Marios, talking flowers, and discussion as to whether one specific level – Climb to the Beat – was one of Mario’s hardest of all time. As an authority on that subject and someone who spent more than an hour clearing the level, I can tell you. Yes, it is one of the hardest, maybe too hard, and I loved every second of the grueling platforming. Make of that what you will.
October also marked the arrival of another League of Legends spin-off title in the form of Song of Nunu from developer Tequila Works and publisher Riot Forge. While we had a decent enough time with 2023’s other LoL spin-off games, Convergence and The Mageseeker, Song of Nunu would go on to cement a special place in deputy editor Kayleigh’s heart, describing the experience as “a wholesome story that touches your heart – it deserves to be heard.”
2023’s penultimate month saw much of the gaming industry riding the GTA 6 trailer hype train following an announcement from Rockstar at the beginning of November. That wasn’t the only GTA news of the month, though, with the GTA Trilogy arriving on mobile via Netflix Games. What better way to spend the long wait for the sixth installment of Rockstar’s iconic series than by reminding yourself of what made the series so incredible in the first place? If high-speed pursuits and shootouts aren’t your cup of tea, Nintendo offered an excellent alternative to old-school gamers by capping another stellar year of Mario games off with Super Mario RPG, a remake of the 1996 classic.
Sadly, November also offered some more of the kind of news that plagued 2023 in terms of more industry layoffs. This time, it was Nuverse, the ByteDance-owned gaming company responsible for publishing Marvel Snap. While Second Dinner, the Marvel Snap developer, assured fans that it wouldn’t suffer due to the publisher restructuring, there were still substantial job losses for those working on other titles.
With the end of E3, December is possibly the biggest month of the year for the gaming industry now, thanks to The Game Awards 2023 and its host Geoff Keighley dishing out gongs and hyping up the next twelve months of play. This year’s big winners included Best Mobile Honkai Star Rail, Best Family Game Super Mario Bros. Wonder, and Best Independent Game Sea of Stars. The biggest prize, the Game of the Year award, went to Baldur’s Gate 3. You win this year, console gamers, but we’ll be back.
The Best Mobile gong wasn’t Honkai Star Rail’s only bit of recognition in December, with the game also receiving plaudits from both the Google Play Best of 2023 list and App Store Awards 2023. Monopoly Go, Scopely’s mobile adaptation of the classic board game, also had a stellar end of the year. The game starring the Monopoly Man picked up the User’s Choice Game award, as voted for by the public, and the Best Pick Up & Play award from the Google Play Best of 2023 selection, while Scopely celebrated making more than a billion dollars in revenue less than a year after the game’s launch.
Looking back, 2023’s been a year of somewhat recurring themes, with positives and negatives in almost equal measure. In terms of good news, Nintendo fans have eaten well, with Switch versions of classic games like Super Mario RPG, Metroid Prime, and Advance Wars. It’s been a big year for Hoyoverse fans, too, with Honkai Star Rail and Genshin Impact growing even further, while the first Zenless Zone Zero beta gave us a better look at what’s next from the Chinese developer.
However, the lows have been pretty low. There’s no denying that the industry has taken a bit of a beating this year, with games like NBA All-World, Apex Legends Mobile, and Yu-Gi-Oh! Cross World’s shutting down within a year of release, whole studios collapsing under the weight of development costs, and countless layoffs across the board. There are several things to blame, from the global inflation crisis to the return to normality following the enhanced interest in gaming during the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, as well as individual factors for different businesses, but it’s still pretty disheartening.
As we look ahead to 2024, there’s plenty for us to get excited about, but there’s also some trepidation. While many seem to think that this year is the one in which we’ll finally get the follow-up to the Switch, and we know we’re getting another exciting new Hoyoverse game in Zenless Zone Zero, there’s still plenty of uncertainty in the wider industry, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. For now, the team at Pocket Tactics wishes you all the best for 2024, whatever it may bring.
While you’re here, be sure to check out some of our favorite games of the year with our Pocket Tactics Awards 2023 for the best mobile games of the year and the best Switch games of the year. Or, if you’re looking for something a little different, see our picks for the best indie games of the last twelve months.